We didn’t really plan it this way, but it turns out the last show we did before our summer hiatus was the perfect inspiration for taking a break. Part of what we wanted to accomplish in these few months, was to step away from the grind, to go off by ourselves for a time and really just think about things.
The artist and writer Jenny Odell joined us on that last show to talk about this new book she's written, making a case for doing nothing. As it turns out, doing nothing is not so easy, for all the reasons you can imagine, including the fact that we now live in what Odell calls an ‘attention economy.’ She says our ability to pay attention is our most precious resource, and her book had two purposes. The first part is to help people disengage from the multitude of digital distractions. But the book is almost more about how you re-engage with something else. Odell says that something else "is nothing less than time and space, a possibility only once we meet each other there on the level of attention.” As a staff, we discussed what we would do with our time off. There was talk about long hikes and long stretches of solitude. It was during one of these stretches, on my own, that I realized how difficult it is to … do … nothing.
A few years ago we had David Strayer on the show and we’ve followed his work ever since. Strayer is a cognitive psychologist at the University of Utah’s Applied Cognition Lab. Really, he’s the world’s expert on the effects of all the distractions and multi-tasking of the information age. Strayer does his own share of hiking, and (as we learned in another show) from time to time he takes students and other scientists into the wilderness with him to see what happens when people turn off their devices and disconnect. Apparently he even has them take off their watches. It turns out it takes three days for your brain to cognitively re-boot. Once the novelty of the experience wears off, Strayer says the circuits in your brain can reroute themselves in ways that make you think differently. You come up with ideas or solutions that might not have occurred in the same way.
It's strange to say, but I'm hoping that all this "doing nothing" will help us make RadioWest better. It's something you can try, too. In her book, Jenny Odell quotes the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze who wrote that we were "riddled with pointless talk, insane quantities of words and images." Deleuze said the trick wasn’t getting people to express themselves, but of "providing little gaps of solitude and silence in which they might eventually find something to say." He said it was a relief to have nothing to say and a right to say nothing because, "only then is there a chance of framing the rare, and ever rare, thing that might be worth saying."
Talk to you soon,